Also sprach Zarathustra

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Richard Strauss, 1894

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (German: [ˈalzo ʃpʁaːx t͡saʁaˈtʊstʁa] (listen), Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Thus Spake Zarathustra)[1] is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical 1883–1885 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra.[2] The composer conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts half an hour.

The initial fanfare – titled "Sunrise" in the composer's programme notes[3] – became well known after its use in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[4]


The work is orchestrated for piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes, English horn, clarinet in E-flat, 2 clarinets in B-flat, bass clarinet in B-flat, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns in F and E, 4 trumpets in C and E, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, bell on low E, organ, and strings: 2 harps, violins I, II (16 each), violas (12), cellos (12), and double basses (8) (with low B string).


The piece is divided into nine sections played with only three definite pauses. Strauss named the sections after selected chapters of Friedrich Nietzsche's novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

  1. "Sonnenaufgang" (Sunrise)
  2. "Von den Hinterweltlern" (Of the Backworldsmen)[5]
  3. "Von der großen Sehnsucht" (Of the Great Longing)
  4. "Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften" (Of Joys and Passions)
  5. "Das Grablied" (The Song of the Grave)
  6. "Von der Wissenschaft" (Of Science and Learning)
  7. "Der Genesende" (The Convalescent)
  8. "Das Tanzlied" (The Dance Song)
  9. "Nachtwandlerlied" (Song of the Night Wanderer)

These selected chapters from Nietzsche's novel highlight major moments of the character Zarathustra's philosophical journey in the novel. The general storylines and ideas in these chapters were the inspiration used to build the tone poem's structure.


 \relative c' { \clef treble \time 4/4 c2 g' | c }

The piece starts with a sustained double low C on the double basses, contrabassoon and church organ. This transforms into the brass fanfare of the Introduction and introduces the "dawn" motif (from "Zarathustra's Prologue", the text of which is included in the printed score) that is common throughout the work; the motif includes three notes, in intervals of a fifth and octave, as C–G–C[2] (known also as the Nature-motif). On its first appearance, the motif is a part of the first five notes of the natural overtone series: octave, octave and fifth, two octaves, two octaves and major third (played as part of a C major chord with the third doubled). The major third is immediately changed to a minor third, which is the first note played in the work (E flat) that is not part of the overtone series.[2]

"Of the Backworldsmen" begins with cellos, double-basses and organ pedal before changing into a lyrical passage for the entire section.[2]

"Of the Great Longing" introduces motifs that are more chromatic in nature.[2]


"Of Joys and Passions", in C minor, would mark the first subject theme of the work's allegro (exposition) proper.

The strings prevail in "The Song of the Grave", in which some would say the second subject theme, in B minor, starts in this section.


The following portion of the piece can be analyzed as a large development section. "Of Science and Learning" features an unusual fugue beginning at measure 201 in the double-basses and cellos, which consists of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale.[2] Measure 223 contains one of the very few sections in the orchestral literature where the basses must play a contra B (the lowest B on a piano), which is only possible on a 5-string bass or (less frequently) on a 4-string bass with a low-B extension.

 \relative c { \clef bass \time 4/4 c,4(\pp g' c2) | b4( fis d2) | \times 2/3 { ees4( g bes) } \times 2/3 { a( e cis~ } | \times 2/3 { des2) f!-- aes-- } | g2. }

The development continues in "The Convalescent". By the end of this section, there is a prolonged retransition over the dominant of C major.


Back in C major, "The Dance Song" would mark the recapitulation. It features a very prominent violin solo throughout the section. Later in this section, elements from "The Song of the Grave" (the second subject theme) are heard in the work's original key.


"Song of the Night Wanderer" would mark the coda of the tone poem. It begins with 12 strikes of midnight. The end of the "Song of the Night Wanderer" leaves the piece half-resolved, with high flutes, piccolos and violins playing a B major chord, while the lower strings pluck a C.

 \relative c'''' { \clef treble \time 4/4 \key b \major <dis b fis dis>1\ppp | \clef bass c,,,,,4 r c r | c r r2 \bar "|." }

One of the major compositional themes of the piece is the contrast between the keys of B major, representing humanity, and C major, representing the universe. Because B and C are adjacent notes, these keys are tonally dissimilar: B major uses five sharps, while C major has none.[6]

World riddle theme[edit]

There are two opinions about the world riddle theme. Some sources[who?] denote the fifth/octave intervals (C–G–C8va) as the World riddle motif.[2] However, other sources[who?] refer to the two conflicting keys in the final section as representing the World riddle (C–G–C B–F–B8va), with the unresolved harmonic progression being an unfinished or unsolved riddle: the melody does not conclude with a well-defined tonic note as being either C or B, hence it is unfinished.[2] The ending of the composition has been described:[2]

But the riddle is not solved. The tone-poem ends enigmatically in two keys, the Nature-motif plucked softly, by the basses in its original key of C—and above the woodwinds, in the key of B major. The unsolvable end of the universe: for Strauss was not pacified by Nietzsche's solution.

— Essay from Old and[2]

Neither C major nor B major is established as the tonic at the end of the composition.


The first recording was made in 1935 with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.[7] In 1944, Strauss conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in an experimental high fidelity recording of the piece, made on a German Magnetophon tape recorder.[8] This was later released on LP by Vanguard Records and on CD by various labels. Strauss's friend and colleague, Fritz Reiner, made the first stereophonic recording of the music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in March 1954 for RCA Victor.[9] In 2012, this recording was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry 2011 list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" American sound recordings.[10] Thus Spake Zarathustra by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel reached No. 33 in the UK chart in 1969.[11] The recording of the opening fanfare used for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Due to its use in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the opening theme of the tone poem became well-known, and was often used as a portent of a significant event to come or regularly used for space-related scenes:


  1. ^ Listed in the closing credits of 2001: A Space Odyssey as "Thus spoke Zarathustra" but on the official soundtrack albums as "Thus spake Zarathustra". The book by Nietzsche has been translated both ways and the title of Strauss's music is usually rendered in the original German whenever not discussed in the context of 2001. Although Britannica Online's entry lists the piece as "Thus spoke Zarathustra", music encyclopedias usually use "spake".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Richard Strauss – Tone-Poem, Death and Transfiguration, Opus 24" Archived 2008-04-15 at the Wayback Machine (and other works), Old And Sold
  3. ^ Also sprach Zarathustra Archived 2011-07-13 at the Wayback Machine – notes by Los Angeles Philharmonic
  4. ^ "Also Sprach Zarathustra!", Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, January 2012.
  5. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. "III. Backworldsmen". Thus Spake Zarathustra. Translated by Thomas Common – via Project Gutenberg.
  6. ^ Also sprach Zarathustra – Notes by American Symphony Orchestra
  7. ^ Philip Clark, "Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra – which recording is best?", Gramophone, 24 November 2014.
  8. ^ Raymond Holden, Richard Strauss: A Musical Life. Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2014, ISBN 978-0-300-12642-6, p. 157.
  9. ^ Kenneth Morgan, Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet, University of Illinois Press, 2010, Springfield. ISBN 978-0252077302. page 204.
  10. ^ "The National Recording Registry 2011". National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Library of Congress. May 24, 2012.
  11. ^ Thus Spake Zarathustra,
  12. ^ "2001: A Space Odyssey Soundtrack Credits". IMDb.
  13. ^ "Apollo 11 Lift-off". BBC. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  14. ^ Desouteiro, Arnaldo. 40 Years of Eumir Deodato's iconic "Prelude". Jazz Station. 30 September 2013.
  15. ^ "1973 Grammy Award Winners". Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  16. ^ "Being There (1979) Soundtrack". IMDB. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  17. ^ "Ric Flair – Also sprach Zarathustra". Classic FM. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  18. ^ "Phish – Also Sprach Zarathustra". Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  19. ^ "What is the song in Salesforce's Super Bowl 2022 commercial?". 12 February 2022. Retrieved 16 February 2022.

External links[edit]